Harriina Räinä: Exchange studies taught me independence and patience

Tell us about yourself.

I’m Harriina Räinä, a fifth-year student in the subject area of printmaking at the Academy of Fine Arts of the University of the Arts Helsinki (Uniarts Helsinki).

Tell us about your exchange studies. What did you learn and gain from this experience?

I went on a student exchange as part of my Master’s studies and studied in the Plastic Arts and Mixed Media programme at the University of Tsukuba in Japan from 4 April until 31 August 2017. I wanted to get a chance to work in a completely different environment after my Bachelor’s degree. That’s why I decided to start my Master’s studies as an exchange student in Japan. All of the courses, except for the language courses, were taught in Japanese. Some of the professors spoke English, others only a little bit, and the rest spoke no English at all. The teachers’ assistants and other students always helped me if I didn’t know what to do. Overall, I feel that the welcome I got from the new school was really great.

I studied woodcarving, copper etching and performance art, and I also completed a course in public art at Tsukuba. The University of Tsukuba is very craftsmanship-oriented, and focusing on materials and tuning in to their individual voice and character was the best lesson I got during the exchange.

Another major experience for me was being under the impact of the Japanese nature and climate. In my work, I’m interested in people’s ways of grounding themselves in the reality that surrounds them, and the Japanese world view is very different compared to the Finnish one. The old Shinto animism still lives on alongside other religions, and it’s reflected on the Japanese tradition of respecting different places in the nature, such as mountains, and regarding them as sacred.

I also became more independent and a lot more patient, which will help me as a student of fine arts and later on when I’ll be working professionally as an artist. 

In what other ways are your studies international?

Uniarts Helsinki’s Academy of Fine Arts teaches students to have an international mindset in their profession. A lot of the courses are in English. Often there doesn’t have to be more than one student in the course who doesn’t speak Finnish in order for the whole course to be taught in English. Students will still have the chance to use Finnish, of course, and often we speak both Finnish and English in seminars, for example.

The academy also regularly invites international lecturers and artists to Helsinki, and students have a chance to meet some of them on studio visits. For me personally, it was extremely important to get to meet Canadian artists Deirdre Logue and Allyson Mitchell and attend their lecture in 2016.

Students at the Academy of Fine Arts also get to go on excursions abroad. I visited Venice last September together with other Master’s students, and we got to see the Venice Biennale and participated in the events that were organised as part of Uniarts Helsinki’s Research Pavilion. During my first year of studies, I went on a study trip to Madrid and Paris with my art history class. These trips were really important, because I got to see a lot of historic art on site and my understanding of the history of Western art grew considerably.

Students may also apply for a grant from the Academy of Fine Arts so that they can receive support for their international activities and their personal artistic work. This grant made it possible for me to take up a printmaking residency in Spain in 2014.

What kind of plans do you have for the future?

My goal for this spring is simply to focus on the MFA Degree Show, Kuvan Kevät, which is coming up in May. I began my project back in early autumn, and it feels wonderful getting to focus on just one project in the spring. 

Later in the autumn, I intend to complete the second artistic component of my Master’s thesis project and write the written component for it. Before graduating, I’d also like to complete a traineeship, which will probably take place in spring 2019. My plan at the moment is to go back to Japan and learn traditional Japanese papermaking!

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